Friday, March 30, 2007

Memorial site to Sir Dirk Bogarde, novelist & memoirist

Also in today's blog
My comments on readers' comments
Bibliophile's 250th catalogue arrives

By a happy chance, on Wednesday I happened to see a print edition of The Independent that contained a feature about the memorial site to the late Sir Dirk Bogarde launched on that day which would have been his 86th birthday. Surprisingly I couldn't find the feature at the online edition of the newspaper.

I have most of Bogarde's books, preferring the autobiographies to the novels, although I greatly enjoyed his second novel, Voices in the Garden, first published by Chatto & Windus in 1981. Amazon UK offer 60 new and used copies, but they've removed the reviews.

However if you haven't come across it, the all-important first page can be read at the site where the novel is summarised thus -

"In the splendid gardens of the Riviera villa a small group of people of widely differing character come together by chance, link, hold, and finally break away. Dirk's second novel explores these disparate lives - the elegant well-born English hosts, ageing, aware, and vulnerable; the two young holiday-makers, from opposite worlds in love and eagerly exploring their way together; a dynamic Italian film director (with yacht and entourage) intent on his own ambitions and at the height of dangerous powers. All are caught up in the potent chemistry of their meeting; none remains untouched as the mid-summer picnic ends, the yacht sails away, and the garden voices fade."

At a guess, the site will take at least an hour to explore fully. It could do with a search facility as I now can't find the page with the delightful photograph I have borrowed. It was taken by actress Charlotte Rampling.

My comments on readers' comments

As there have now been eight comments on Wednesday's blog, I can't deal with them all today. Perhaps it would be best to respond to them one at a time.

The opening line of the first comment on the blog about Julie Cohen amused me. Kate Walker, [see photo by Stirling Photography] a Mills & Boon romance writer, wrote, "Well Julie's web site, like her books, is not aimed at readers of your generation, so I wouldn't expect them to appeal."

When, in 20 years' time, you're my age, Kate, you'll find that, given good health, 77 is very little different, mentally, from 57. There are physical deteriorations, of course, but the mind, if kept active, doesn't change much and many eighty-something readers can identify with heroines of their great-grandaughters' generation…providing they have a spot of common sense.

I'm puzzled by your suggestion that no comment on a book is allowable unless one has read the whole thing, which I plan to do with Julie's.

As an infrequent Mills & Boon reader, it was news to me that "the unplanned pregnancy has been the basis of so many M&B stories" for longer than Kate has been writing. Even in the 1950s when my first M&B was published, there was plenty of advice available on how to plan pregnancies. So why, all these years later, sensible heroines - and who wants readers who can identify with the other kind? - are not in charge of their own bodies is puzzling.

Perhaps, as one of my paternal aunts had her life blighted by an unplanned and outside-marriage pregnancy, I was always particularly conscious of the risks of pre-marital sex. My own pregnancy was planned after nine years' of marriage with my thirtieth birthday looming. The following year, 1960, my eighth M&B, A Call For Nurse Templar, was published, dedicated to my [home] midwife - "with my warmest thanks for her help with the book and the baby."

All is grist to the writer's mill!

Bibliophile's 250th catalogue of book bargains

Yesterday I was delighted to receive a copy of the 250th Bibliophile catalogue - a 40-page tabloid-newspaper style list of "Britain's Best Postal Book Bargains".

"Founded in 1978 for budget bookworms of all ages, we have 30 years' experience of selling the finest selection of bargain books, which we have haggled over individually from publishers to get the best prices for you. We publish the the free catalogue every five weeks and this month we are celebrating our 250th issue!"

If you're not already on their mailing list and would like to be, email

As some of you may remember, on Sunday, July 24, 2005, I wrote the following -
It was Frances Whitehead who introduced me to one of my life's delights. On 4 December 1986, she wrote -

"I'm enclosing a copy of Bibliophile, an organisation which may not be familiar to you. They specialise in the slightly off-beat (invariably remaindered because they don't have wide appeal) and they quite often feature art, antiques, embroidery and horses, all of which I know are amongst your interests. Scrap it if it's of no use, but I usually find something different and they will post overseas."

At that time Frances was deputy editorial director of Mills & Boon, then at 15-16 Brook's Mews, London W 1, conveniently close to Claridges where Alan Boon, whom Frances later succeeded as editorial director, took his authors for long, champagne-fuelled lunches.

That's all for this week. Back on Monday.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Penguin and The Bookseller going downmarket

Also in today's blog
Supporting new authors
New sex memoirs section
Penguin should be ashamed of themselves

Last night, after supper, I settled down on the sofa with a glass of wine and a dish of walnuts to read The Bookseller's Paperback Preview for July.

This monthly feature is written by Sarah Broadhurst. Here's what has to say about her.

"Sarah Broadhurst spent her early working life in the book trade in both retail and wholesale until the arrival of children forced her to look for freelance work she could do from home.

Her position of paperback buyer in Hatchards and then director of a book wholesale company gave her a wide knowledge of all sectors of the trade. She felt the trade lacked unbiased opinion, every publisher had the “best thing since sliced bread” and she knew the trade would benefit from an independent overview of the books published each month. She sold her idea to the trade journal The Bookseller and has, for the last 25 years, been writing a monthly article (from home!) on the new paperbacks on offer.

Over the years her opinion has become highly valued in the trade and she has become an expert in her field,'contributing to many radio and television shows and reviewing in a wide range of newspapers and magazines from The Daily Express to Good Housekeeping.

Supporting new authors

Her speciality is supporting new authors. Writers who have a tough time getting recognised. She has backed unknown first novels from the likes of Terry Pratchett, Joanna Trollope and Minette Walters and joins us now in introducing some of the unknown stars of the future to you."

[In passing, don't you hate the expression "the likes of" which is suddenly cropping up everywhere?]

July is not a good month for discriminating bookworms because most publishers aim their July list at holidaymakers, many of whom don't read much for the rest of the year and don't want their brains stretched too much while they're lying on sunbeds working up tans.

In my January 1st blog last year, I wrote, "The Bookseller's December 23/30 issue arrived yesterday morning and I see that the Paperback Preview for April by Sarah Broadhurst now includes a section headed Misery with four titles, including one in which "A 25-year-old looks back on her life of neglect and abuse, her severe depression and her eventual recovery."

I used to look forward to the Paperback Previews as a source of titles for my To Buy or Borrow list. But as time goes on I find fewer and fewer titles worth noting. Not Sarah Broadhurst's fault. She can only reflect what is happening in the UK publishing industry which, even by middlebrow standards, is moving relentlessly downmarket."

Sex memoirs

This week, Mrs Broadhurst has introduced a new and even further downmarket section : Sex Memoirs.

She has selected three, of which the nastiest-sounding is Kinky Confessions of a Working Girl by Miss S which is a Penguin original at £7.99

Penguin should be ashamed of themselves

Mrs Broadhurst's comment is - "The diary of a student's first year working in a London brothel. She is now 28 and running her own business."

A search at Penguin's website failed to produce any info, but Amazon UK describes the book thus –

"Miss S is smart, sassy, sexually frustrated and broke. With the rent money due, she spots an ad for a student job with a difference - in the massage parlour at the bottom of her road. Suddenly she can earn money doing something she is good at and get all the sex she needs. Offered a job on the spot by Mrs B, an ex-madam herself, Miss S quickly gets to grips with the rest of the girls. They include: Bella, the house 'Domme; Carrie, the resident shrink; Tina, the house snitch; and Suzie, the amateur porn star. That's not to mention the cast of clients: Mr 'Suck it Bitch', Mr Gay, Mr Pacemaker, Mr Councillor and the Willy Wacker ..."Kinky Confessions of a Working Girl" is the true, intimate diary of Miss S's extraordinary first year in a brothel and reveals what a Gemini half-hour really involves ... "

Would you want to read this book? Would you want your teenage daughter to read it?

OK, a long time ago an elderly judge, or maybe it was the defending counsel [I'll check it out for tomorrow's blog] made a fool of himself by asking a jury if they would want their wives or servants to read Lady Chatterley's Lover.

But that was then, and this is now when porn - not that I regard LCL as porn - is easily accessible. Supposedly respectable publishers shouldn't be jumping on the "prostitution is fun and profitable" bandwagon.

I doubt very much that Sarah Broadhurst has read Kinky Confessions, or that she would have given it to one of the team of readers who nowadays help her to evaluate the flood of books sent to her.

It may be that she has been pressed to include the new category by the management team at The Bookseller.

Coming tomorrow

A review of the new Dirk Bogarde memorial site
My comments on reader comments on yesterday's blog

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Julie Cohen's thoughts on BookCrossing

Also in today's blog
Patrick O'Brian
Sex With A Stranger

One of the younger published authors in the predominantly middle-aged Romantic Novelists' Association is Julie Cohen.

I became aware of Julie's presence in the Association when, a year or two ago, the programme for an RNA conference included a talk by Julie on how to write sex scenes.

At that point her first book for Mills & Boon had yet to be published.

My reaction was an amused "How about that for chutzpah!"

If you click on the Mills & Boon link above, you can read an interview in which Julie is asked "What is the most romantic gesture or gift you have received?" Her answer : "When my husband knew I wanted to write, he bought me a computer--a beautiful orange iMac. And hardly ever complained when he hardly ever got to use it himself."

[Two "hardly ever"s in one sentence. Tsk,tsk! One of them needs to go, Julie.]

American by birth, Julie now lives in England. In general Americans are much better at self promotion than the British. Although, that said, I have to add that her website/blog, designed for her by four North American women who call themselves collectively Swank, is one of the most garish I've encountered in nine years of website reviewing.

Well, maybe if your favourite colours are lime green, yellow and orange, and you like clusters of blobs, your first impression of the site will be more favourable than mine.

However the site's content is much better than the design, and Julie receives a lot of comments on her posts. [Although sometimes, old cynic that I am, I suspect that romance writers comment on each other's blogs from promotional motives.]

One of Julie's posts which recently I heard discussed on a private writers' forum was dated July 2, 2006 and headed "some thoughts about BookCrossing".

[If you have never heard of BookCrossing, take a look here before reading what Julie has to say.]

Julie's 2 July post concluded – "But there is that tricky issue of authors making a living, and publishers staying in business. A BookCrossing book has many readers, and the author only makes his or her very small profit on it once. A book traded is a book not bought. It’s also not a book taken out of a public library, which pay authors PLR and which need everyone’s support.

On the other hand, I’ve borrowed many books, enjoyed them, and then gone out and bought the author’s other books. If this is what BookCrossers do, then that can benefit authors. Is it?

Let me make it clear again–I’m not in any way questioning the validity or benefits of the organisation to its members. I saw that yesterday. And personally, the convention was an opportunity for me to get my work more well known, which will benefit me. But how about authors in general?"

There have been 22 comments on this post. It doesn't take long to read them all. One of the most interesting is this –

"Hi Julie
I was at your workshop and thoroughly enjoyed it - so much so that I picked up my own writing project when I had some time on Sunday.
I can appreciate your points about authors not receiving payment from books which have been ‘Crossed - we all need to make a living - but I wanted to tell you a little about myself and my book-buying habits.
All through school I was a reading fanatic and pocket money was spent on books. When I went to University and later to work, I continued reading and buying books. Then I became ill (I have Bipolar Disorder). My concentration was completely shot and I spent far too much time watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer videos as, intellectually, that was just my level.
After a few years, I realised that all my books were gathering dust as I was unable to concentrate sufficiently to read them and so I decided to BookCross them with the intention of getting rid of the lot and the bookcases they lived in to boot.
And so I encountered BookCrossers for the very first time. They insisted on sending me books. And it would have been rude not to at least try to read them. And I found that I *could* read again and that much of my concentration had returned.
Because I was reading again I returned to the bookshops and started restocking my shelves. Sunday afternoon is no longer the Eastenders Omnibus and a big bar of chocolate - I’d far rather spend it in Waterstone’s and then go for coffee with friends.
I often buy two copies of books - one for me and one to BookCross - and have discovered so many new authors whose books I now have on the bookcases (fortunately I didn’t get rid of them!)
My point, obviously, is that pre-BookCrossing I wasn’t buying any books and now I buy far too many (and love every minute!)
This is just my experience but I have heard other, similar stories.
With best wishes and thanks for a wonderful workshop.

Patrick O'Brian

Like many of the people who posted comments, I always buy second-hand copies of books by new-to-me authors. But if I love a book, I will then buy the author's new books in hardback, as I did with the wonderful Patrick O'Brian.

Actually he was discovered by Mr Bookworm in Polly's [second-hand] Bookshop on the sea front at Jávea in Spain. Whether the shop is still there, I don't know as we never go to Jávea now. Thirty years ago it was a delightful little fishing port. The last time I saw it, a few years ago, it was horribly overbuilt, like most of the Costa Blanca's coastline.

Sex with a stranger

While at Julie Cohen's website, I read this –

Mills & Boon Modern Extra, October 2006
"Joanna Graham treats commitment like a communicable disease. She likes her affairs fun and string-free. So when she ends up having amazing sex with a gorgeous stranger in a closet in the National Gallery, she thinks it’s the carefree beginning to a perfect summer holiday. And then she takes the pregnancy test."

I have serious misgivings about authors romanticising situations which, in real life, are 99% likely to end in disaster.

Having sex with a stranger is an act of reckless stupidity. Ideally, making love should only be done by people who love each other, and love involves knowing the other person well and trusting them. Yes, casual sex happens and the fall-out is all around us. But what happens in the real world and what happens in romantic fiction are, or should be, two different things.

No doubt in Married In A Rush, the author contrives a happy ending. But, by the sound of it, the beginning of the story is totally irresponsible and I'm surprised that Julie's editor didn't express my own misgivings.

Yes, the majority of Mills & Boon readers are sensible adults who take the romances with a strong pinch of salt. But what about the teenagers who read them?

Is Kizzy Neal,the 14-year-old who is expecting a baby in May, a Mills & Boon reader? Maybe not. But there are many silly young girls who are. Responsible writers and editors should bear them in mind.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Richard Charkin, Jeffrey Archer, Professor Grayling

On 24 March, after reading about and listening to a podcast of Richard Charkin, CEO of Macmillan, interviewing Jeffrey Archer about his new book, I posted this comment at Mr Charkin's blog.

"I listened to the podcast out of curiosity about your voice which is very attractive. The same can't be said of JA's voice. Sounds like a super-salesman, which I suppose is what he is. Being an atheist, I shall not be buying the book, and shall be surprised if it stays in the charts for long, despite all the hype."

To which Richard Charkin, seen on the left of the photo, replied, "Anne, Thanks for the compliment. I think you're right about JA. He is a super-salesman. And so are many people. It's strange that it sounds derogatory in Britsh English. In most languages it would be deemed a good characteristic. I'm not sure whether one's religion or lack of it should determine book purchases. Would you not buy a book about Buddhism because you're not a Buddhist? I don't know how well the book will sell in the variuous markets in which it's published. I'd be very surprised it it sold as well as Archer's fiction but it will certainly generate a lot of debate and interest which is the point."

In the past I've read several books about Buddhism which, of all the world's religions, seems to have been the least harmful. But, although I spent part of my childhood in a Church of England rectory, it didn't take long to realise that all the major religions have done more harm than good.

Yesterday there was an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph headed, "We'd be better off without religion, argues A C Grayling, who is a keynote speaker in a major debate on the futility of faith in London tomorrow." [Tuesday 27 March]

In his piece for the Telegraph, Professor Grayling wrote -

"In Britain public funding has gone to Church of England and Roman Catholic schools for a long time; now Muslims, Sikhs and Jews receive public money for their own faith-based schools. BBC radio has steadily increased the airtime available to religions other than the established one.

Requests for extra protections in law, and alternatively for exemptions from the law, to cater for religious sensitivities soon followed these developments: criminalising offensive remarks about religion, and allowing faith-based organisations to be exempt from legislation outlawing discriminatory practices, are the main examples.

The Labour Government has been as concessive and inclusive as it can be to all the religious groups in Britain. This is well intentioned but misguided, as the example of faith-based schooling shows. If children are ghettoised by religion from an early age, the result, as seen in Northern Ireland, is disastrous."

A reader's comment

I've just picked up the following comment which I think refers to my complaint about the colour of the text on Judy Astley's website.

"At 24 March, 2007, Jan Jones said...
Anne, if you hold down the CTRL button on the keyboard and roll the wheel on the top of your mouse, you can increase or decrease the size of text on the screen. It doesn't work for illustrations, alas."

Thanks for the suggestion, Jan, but although it works at Richard Charkin's blog and my blog and your website, it doesn't work at the site designed for Judy Astley by Mospace.

My usual method of enlarging text is to click on View and Text Size, but Judy's text is not adjustable. Actually it wasn't the size of Judy's text that concerned me but its colour. Still, nice of you to make a helpful suggestion.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The £35 sweater and the £85 million offer

Yesterday we had another family lunch at which my eldest grandson [three in July] wore a dashing sweater with "Weekend A La Mer" written across the chest. My daughter-in-law told me she bought it at Daisy & Tom in London's King's Road for £35.

Knowing that to a thrifter like myself £35 for a small child's sweater is a lot of money, she pointed out that Son No 1 will have two years' wear out of it, and her six-months-old twin boys will probably do the same.

What has this to do with books? you may be thinking.

When I was back at my laptop, I went to the Daisy and Tom website where I clicked the link to the Chelsea store and saw the carousel [see photo] my daughter in law had told me about.

Then, exploring further, I read, "Founded in 1996 by Tim Waterstone, Daisy and Tom is the definitive Children's Department Store, and is part of the Chelsea Stores group."

Could it be the same Tim Waterstone who is one of the most famous names in the book world?

Tim Waterstone

Indeed it could. His biography at Personally Speaking, the website of the Norman Phillips Organisation, which represents a galaxy of big names, reads –

"Chairman of HMV Media Group and Founder of Waterstone’s and Daisy & Tom One of the most astute and determined businessmen of recent years, Tim Waterstone is the founder chairman of HMV Media Group plc (HMV music stores and Waterstone’s bookstores) and is the founder of the Daisy & Tom children’s department stores.

Tim was born in Glasgow and worked for Allied Breweries before joining WH Smith in 1973. Tim founded the remarkably successful Waterstone’s booksellers with £6000 of the redundancy money he received when he was sacked from WH Smith in 1982. He went on to raise £100,000 venture capital and set up Waterstone’s Booksellers with its first shop in London’s Old Brompton Road. Tim established Waterstone’s reputation as ‘the eponymous classy bookshop’ and changed the face of British book retailing. Waterstone’s was also one of the two or three largest and most successful venture capital entities of its time. Nine years later he sold the company to his previous employers for £47m, only to buy it back again together with EMI and Advent International in 1998!"

Then, looking for more information about him, I came across an item which wasn't in the printed edition of this week's The Bookseller but was on the magazines's website, dated March 19.

£85 million offer

"Baby clothes and pushchairs retailer Mothercare is in talks to buy Chelsea Stores, the owner of toy chain Early Learning Centre and Daisy & Tom, for £85m, reports the Telegraph.
Mothercare confirmed yesterday that it is negotiating over a possible cash and shares deal and said: "A further announcement will be made in due course."

It is understood Mothercare sees the Early Learning Centre, which specialises in educational toys, as a good fit for its business. While Mothercare has out-of-town retail outlets as well as high street shops, Early Learning Centre only has a presence on the high street.
Chelsea Stores, which also owns children's clothes and book store Daisy & Tom, is owned by a consortium including Waterstone's bookshop founder Tim Waterstone."

Having read that Tim Waterstone had written three novels, I went off to Amazon UK to look for them and found that, in the early Nineties, he also published Marketing for Small Publishers described as -

"A step-by-step handbook on the most effective ways to market publications. Designed specifically for those working in small and medium-sized publishers and voluntary organizations. It provides a chronological guide from making the initial decision to publish, to deciding on title and format, promoting and selling to the trade, schools, libraries and other specialist markets and dealing with the media, bookshops and distributors. The book also discusses selling rights and selling in overseas markets. "

Early last year he published Swimming Against the Stream which I'll blog about later.

The Brown Bear Book

The book I read to my grandson before and after lunch yesterday had been bought for his father when he was small, It was printed in Czechoslovakia in 1964, one of the Golden Pleasure Books Read-Together Series.

It includes three stories by Kathryn B Jackson illustrated by Scott Johnston, Wily Little Bear, Hasty Little Bear, Too-Little Bear, and The Big Brown Bear by Georges Duplaix, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren.

If you're interested in illustrators, do click on this last link.